As you may have noticed reading my social media updates lately, I had the chance to attend the 2016 edition of the famous Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, which was a very first time for me !
And this year’ SOSWF surely didn’t disappoint… AT ALL ! I first wanted to provide you with a proper « day by day » diary of my festival experience but I finally prefered enjoying each and every second of it rather than spending hours writing notes on my computer, alone in my room (even if it had a crazy mezzanine bathtub…) I hope you won’t blame me for that 😉 After all, whisky is meant to be social and the tangible vector of « convivialité ». Or at least, that’s what I believe (and anyway, Becky P. and Sean M. did a brilliant job doing so… !)
I have then decided to approach this SOSWF experience in a slightly different way and pick 5 highlights moments that I chose to pair with a specific sense… Ok this may sound a bit confusing but let’s give it a try ! (Please also keep in mind that we attended loads of events and venues and ONLY picking 5 was incredibly difficult – especially when it comes to « taste » !) – But no worries, more in-depth articles will be coming soon !
Sight: Opening Gala Dinner at Auchroisk Distillery
I could also include the opening ceilidh the following night held in the same location… And what a splendid location ! Everything was over the top, from the welcoming cocktail, to the guests, speakers, decoration, music, top-class food & drams (and being seated at the Dalluaine table couldn’t have been better – especially with some great neighbours such as James Campbell, chairman of the festival, who definitely knows his dancing! Still need to improve mine… But I promise I’ll do some practice before next year’ edition!) and this sweet whisky-flavoured cake… *drooling*
The distillery was turned into a true hollywoodian whisky-lover paradise with an impressive dark ceiling full of stars (hey, that’s the point where you start singing Coldplay in your head and hate me for that).
To sum up, a definite treat for the eyes from top to bottom and a perfect way to kick off 5 days of malted celebrations !
Taste: Balvenie St. Ice Cream
This choice may sound surprising given all the great tastings we had but I just couldn’t resist ! Marrying ice creams and whisky actually comes to the combination of my two favourite things in life (I would have probably suggested opening a kitten shelter next door to enhance the experience but hey, can’t have it all…)
This little colorful paradise shop opened three years ago and is located in the very heart of Dufftown (litteraly 2 minutes away from the Whisky Shop). Its passionate founder is currently making 4 different kinds of whisky ice creams, and after tasting the whole range (Aberlour, Balvenie, Glenfiddich & Bowmore), I just can’t recommend enough the Bowmore flavour where the influence of the whisky really shows off behind the cream, turning the signature peat into a deliciously sugary aroma… yummy !
Hearing: Women in Whisky at The Craigellachie Hotel
Ann Miller, brand ambassador for Chivas Regal, was hosting a lunch at the iconic Craigellachie Hotel on Sunday – and with such a theme (Women in Whisky), I was already convinced before even stepping foot in the renowned Quaich bar. A glass of Sherry, a couple of Spanish-styled tapas and some great tales later, Ann definitely won me over!
Listening to Ann’s personal stories and anecdotes of her student life (along with some practical tips during the lunch) and career in the whisky industry proved more than captivating – and looking at the whole audience, I wasn’t the only one fascinated by such an inspiring figure ! I believe there’s a huge part of storytelling in whisky’s appeal… And Ann completely fullfilled my expectations !
Smell: The Speyside Cooperage
Please note I’m not gonna talk about The Blackening here, which probably deserves an article on its own.
If you know me (or not, it’s still time to catch-up with my nevrosis !), I have been studying distilleries and other whisky-related attractions’ visitor experience since a while, especially focusing on sensorial experiences. When we entered The Speyside Cooperage’s small cinema room I must admit I said to myself « and yet another boring video telling us how this place is incredible and a must-visit attraction ». I was actually very surprised to be proved wrong. I enjoyed every minute of this video – and not because of the simple fact that it was interesting and educative (which it was) but also thanks to this small technology they recently added (« smellovision ») : matching images with smells – thus adding a completely new dimension to the video. I really loved the initiative and wish more attractions would follow this innovative path. Of course, the visit of the actual cooperage comes as the cherry on the wooden cake.
Touch: The Station Hotel in Rothes
I couldn’t write enough compliments about this place as I would be running low in superlatives very quickly. I simply loved it. We stayed there for 5 nights during the festival and everything was just perfect : the staff, the well-stocked whisky bar, the breakfast, the location in Rothes, and especially…. The impressive and heavenish rooms named after different distilleries (which also came with a complimentary dram of Glenrothes Vintage Reserve).
Actually, the bed was so comfy I could have totally stayed in it for the whole duration of the trip (with a few bathtub breaks probably to rythm my days) – I remember bringing a dram of Rosebank back to my suite one day late at night (or very early in the morning), just sitting on the bed, lost amongst the 15489798 cushions and enjoying the moment. This picture still makes me smile… (also probably because I am currently writing this piece in a « family carriage » – and grumpy children screaming aren’t part of what I enjoy the most in life – of a train which could also be described as the anti-thesis of comfort and quality time) .
So yes, you may wonder why I chose a hotel for my « touch » highlight but I think comfort is somehow linked to this specific sense. And so does my sore back (I may look 25 but my back is definitely closer to 60).